Adam glanced at the clock as he walked out the door of work, bone weary from another 70 hour work week. He sat down, exhaling his breath slowly with his eyes closed, and thought to himself as the car started that he had made it through another week. Driving over to a friends party seemed like a great way to unwind. At least, that is what he told himself this morning before his shift. After helping customers all day, lifting boxes, and solving problems for his employees he felt much less enthusiastic about the prospect of being social. Sleep and laying comatose on a couch while eating some dinner and watching his favorite drama he had recorded on his dvr sounded like a winning idea right now. He had already agreed though and he would stop by and try to have some fun. After all, he had earned it! What is the point of working so hard if you can’t also enjoy life and play just as hard?
“Hey man!” Adams friend Ameen greeted Adam at the door. “You haven’t missed much and most of the other guys bailed tonight. Its just me and JT watching the game”.
“Its all good man” Adam responded without much emotion. He was running on autopilot and Ameen always had enough energy to cover the conversation gaps anyway. Adam figured he could just relax in front of the game tonight and let the guys talk it up until he went home. Besides, they had food and that meant no cooking which was always a no-brainer.
“How was work man?” Ameen asked sitting down again in his chair next to a plate of pizza he had left half eaten. He took a bite and remained sitting forward as if he was more energized to talk than motivated to sit back and relax. Adam thought to himself this was a bad sign.
“It was good. I am tired. Working way too many hours as usual”.
“We were just talking about that” Ameen replied.
“Yeah” Jt chimed in “whats up bro? We were just talking about how you work more hours than anyone we know”.
“Got to make the money” Adam replied, filling his plate with pizza and chips. “You need a girl Ameen. Dominos and beer isn’t going to cut it forever.”
“Hey man! Don’t knock game night! I don’t need variety. Besides a girlfriend wouldn’t be too happy about guys night every friday night” Ameen replied laughing. His attitude was always go fast, do what feels right, and don’t make me worry about girls.
Adam laughed. Teasing Ameen never got old.
“You won’t believe what I saw today while picking up the beer” JT interjected, trying to get back on the conversation Adam had interrupted when he had arrived. “I was in the checkout line (not your store) and this lady is checking out with steak and mac and cheese and all this unhealthy crap and she has these three kids that are just screaming! I mean she had no control over them at all. They were just crying, snot running down their noses and she is ignoring them and checking out and she pulls out food stamps and pays for everything. I am like ‘seriously? I work my can off all week and am paying for her? I don’t even have enough money to buy that much steak and if I had kids I would be feeding them better than all that boxed food crap. She obviously couldn’t handle her kids either. Just so sad”.
“I see that all the time” Adam replied. “It is how this country runs now. You get people who are lazy and have no drive in life, who want other hard working people just to take care of them and their kids. They don’t know how to feed them, keep a budget, and constantly abuse the system. You should see the numbers! it is just sickening. All these people taking OUR hard earned money and enjoying good food all for doing nothing. That isn’t what this country was supposed to be man. It was built on hard work”.
“Ya! Obviously not something that lady knows anything about” JT laughed.
“You know what is sad?” added Ameen. “It is sad that you both act like she is stealing money from you.” Ameen felt angry and now Adam could tell why he was so focused and full of energy when he came in. He was still sitting forward but had turned the game down. Adam kept watching and tried to resist getting pulled in for a further discussion. Ameen saw things so inaccurately sometimes. Always fighting for the underdog. Always raising a case for the 2%.
“Man, I don’t want to get into this. But she IS taking my money. I work all week and can barely afford rent and food. I can’t afford much and am paying off all my student loans. But that is the way it SHOULD be.”
“Yah!” JT muttered his approval shaking his head in agreement.
Adam continued “It is a virtue to work hard. I don’t need people who are lazy to take my hard earned money and live better than I do. They get their rent covered, still pay for iphones, get a ton of money for food and sometimes even cash. Then look at what JT just said. They can’t even keep their children under control. Not saying there aren’t those people who have their problems but the church’s should help them out and just give them the basic necessities to live off of. If they want more they should get a job. They shouldn’t be dolling out cash and giving them whatever food they want! There has to be responsibility!! Otherwise you get the entitled generation living off hardworking Americans like me! I work all of the time and I am doing it all by my own two hands. God gave me the ability to do that and even though it is hard I do it. I don’t go asking for handouts and refuse to make something of myself. It is a damn shame”.
Ameen sat so far forward on his chair that Adam wondered if he was even sitting or just squatting now to get out excess energy. He passionately put his hard forward to drive his point home and said “Both of you, I hope you will listen to me. I appreciate how hard working you are and I mean no disrespect but what you just described is so inaccurate that it gives me chills. You see abuse and are fighting so fiercely against it that you aren’t seeing things clearly.”
“Oh I see things perfectly clearly. Are you trying to say no abuse happens? C’mon man. You can’t be that naive” JT responded, obviously starting to become bothered. Adam shook his head staring at the t.v. He wished now he had just stayed home tonight and cancelled. He didn’t need this headache after his long day at work.
Ameen continued, shaking his head no, “No. I know abuse happens. But look at where people are placing the blame. The taxes are taken out of a paycheck that is so low you can barely make ends meet by working amazingly long hours. Both of you are my friends and I see how hard you work! You both paid your dues. Adam you worked your whole way through college and now you work to be independent and make a good career for yourself. That is awesome! JT you went through school and made your own company. It is small but you did it! That is an amazing feat! But have either of you considered, numbers wise, that you should be paid more for all your hard work. The companies that employ you aren’t paying a living wage. JT, you have so many fees associated with your business that you are barely clearing expenses and you are working 24/7.Is that correct?” JT shook his head in agreement. “Now that is the way it is with business’s. You have to fight for growth. But you can’t compete against the big companies who offer reduced costs because they outsource for such a cheap price you can’t compete. You just said the other day, that unless you could get a loan for additional marketing you would fall through. The banks won’t loan to you, even with good credit, and you are stuck in all the bureaucracy. Adam, you are paying on student loans double what you borrowed because of how high they have hiked the tuition and costs for school. And you got a managers position by working your way up but you still haven’t gotten a job commiserate to what you should earn having a masters in education management and business. You work for a company who has you living on a wage you can’t even buy nice things for working you entire week away at. What about all the people who don’t have an ability to get higher education? What about those who want to work at a small job to pay for school but have to work so much overtime that they don’t have any time for school? The job doesn’t even pay them enough to survive.
How many people who use food stamps, or get rental assistance, or get cash help or any of the other services offered are actually abusing the system though? Do you realize many veterans require assistance upon return because they can’t get hired or they are disabled? Do you realize how many people lose jobs and need assistance? What if the lady you saw today, JT, just had her husband leave her? She is overwhelmed with all those little kids and is trying the best she can. My mother was like that.”
“We aren’t talking about your mother” Adam replied curtly. ” We are talking about all the people who get money and live large off of the government a.k.a hard working people and don’t TRY to better themselves or move on.”
Adam shook his head adamantly. “That is exactly my point. The numbers of people who actually do that are so small compared to those who just get gridlocked or genuinely need help that we shouldn’t waste our time defending ourselves against them. If the system makes it so they can’t survive having even having a low paying job then there is a problem. If our veterans come home from war and they can’t get hired because they don’t have ‘job experience’, if employers are worried about ‘ptsd’ and won’t hire because of risk or a veteran is disabled and does have ptsd that is reducing his ability to work then we don’t have the right to say there is no responsibility to care for them. Church’s can’t take care of every little thing that goes wrong. Want to know where all the money is being funneled? All the money required to aide the poor could be tripled if we took all the subsidies and bailouts that are given to the already wealthy when they struggle in their business’s.
Being poor isn’t a crime. Someone who is poor can make bad decisions just like I can. I can order pizza every Friday and drink beer every night. I am going to die of heart disease and get fat but that is my choice and you guys still love me. They can mismanage finances, and have bad days as much as anyone. They are poor not criminals. If they need help and my taxes help them out great! I would hope the criminal justice system also still prosecutes those who DO abuse the system but it isn’t the majority.” Ameen said with furor.
“We are just going to agree to disagree” JT said.
” I am sorry Ameen. Love ya man. But you forget I WORK in customer service. I see the abuses every day. JT just saw one today. Facts don’t lie”.
“I guess perspectives can’t be changed easily either” Ameen said sadly, sitting back finally in his chair. He drifted off thinking of an experience he had had a long time ago. He thought to himself he should share it with JT and Adam but remained silent. Sometimes, not even the truth changes opinions.
Still the memory of his mom came back and the game faded into the background.
Ameen’s mother was a first generation to this country. She had seen her parents fight to become citizens and live here on visas half the year for many years. She had finished a task she would never see her parents complete. They had both died in a tragic car accident with her sisters in Egypt and left her alone. She had moved to New York, became a citizen, and worked hard through school until she found a good job. It didn’t pay very much but she had felt happy and self reliant. She had an eye for beauty and she was excellent at her job. One day she fell deeply in love and quit her job to stay at home with her two sons, Ameen and Jamal. They were both good boys and she was happy. But happiness was a pit-stop for her when her husband abandoned her and the boys for a girl he had met at work. She never heard from him again and not even the courts could secure child support for many years. The first few years were rough. She hadn’t been in the job industry for over 8 years now and seemed to not be able to be rehired. So she got government assistance so she could put food on the table. Ameen felt horrible at remembering how rude his brother had become. He was so angry and lost in the whole situation he had blamed their mother and had started to rebel and lash out. Ameen always had been closer to his mom so he stayed close by her and turned more quiet than ever.
One day his mother had come home so excited she was beaming. She laid her bag on the table and reached for a glass of water. Ameen asked “Why are you so happy?”
“I got a job finally!! It won’t pay much and it is just entry level but I know in no time at all I can work my way back to where I was” Ameen’s mother said happily with tears in her eyes. She drank her water and set it down just staring at the counter smiling. When she looked up a minute later she just smiled at Ameen “Things are going to get better! I love you!”
Ameen believed her with his whole heart. She went to work daily for a long time exhausting herself when a few months later Ameen was again in the front room when his mother walked in. This time she was so torn and haggard looking. She looked to0 tired to cry but it looked like her soul was sobbing and parched for worth.
“Whats wrong?” Ameen asked. He followed her into the kitchen where his mom had sat down slowly at the kitchen table.
“I can’t make ends meet. I got this job but it pays so little that I can’t cover our needs. I picked up more hours but I never see either of you boys. A coworker today told me I needed to go get an education if I wanted more. It hurt so deeply. I have done all I am supposed to do. I am a hard worker. I just can’t make ends meet.”
Ameen felt a dash of hope spring to his heart as he remembered the mail. “Ma!” He exclaimed. He didn’t explain his outburst as he dashed into the next room leaving his mother confused at the table. He rushed back into the kitchen a moment later holding a letter. “This came in the mail today and it looks like a marketing company!”
His mothers eyes re-lit a little and she reached for the letter and opened it immediately. Her heart started to speed up with hope. It began to grow roots that lit like the aurora borealis, spreading dreams and hope as it twisted and turned. She quickly read the letter. “Ameen! This company saw my work from before and they want to have me come in for an interview!!! I might get a good marketing job again!”
Excitedly Ameen asked when they wanted her to come in. She looked for a number and called their office. They were closing that night but the lady said she should stop by in the morning. Risking her job at the market she called in saying she would be late and Ameen went to the office with her.
They both sat in lime green chairs looking at an office with sleek graphic designs all of the walls in orange and lime green. the walls were white and there were splashes of symbols in chrome. It was a very successful company and her eye for beauty would benefit them greatly. She was hard working and looked the part. The only sight out of place were the bags underneath her eyes. Ameen looked up but she looked so happy no one would notice he decided. This is where she belonged.
Ameen realized he was a teenager when this memory happened and he couldn’t remember or fully understand the scope of who the players were but he remembered the emotion. He remembered his mother looking beautiful and the Spanish secretary asking me to wait there. Ameen waited as she ushered his mom into a conference room. The very first door in. He could still see her perfectly. He wasn’t interested in watching the game show that was on t.v in the lobby. He watched his mom sit all alone in the conference room full of confidence. He watched as six men entered the room in suits and sat down. They left the door ajar but he couldn’t hear anything but the hum of voices. Ameen was so anxious to read any signs of how it was going but it appeared very sterile. He was still hopeful and relied on the fact she would get the job. No one was better prepared or a better fit. No one could benefit the team more. Ameen KNEW his mom, saw the resume, saw how impressively she held herself. He relaxed a little. She will be fine.
Ameen moved quietly a little closer by the chairs around the corner , crossing his fingers that he would be able to hear them talk. He sat down quietly and could see through an angel that the receptionist was hard at work and didn’t notice him at all. In the hum of the office and with the game show obtusely reacting with the atmosphere a man in an Armani white suit came up behind the desk to talk to the receptionist. Neither of them knew Ameen was sitting there or could hear. And what was said will always haunt him.
“Where did you find this lady?” the man asked the receptionist. The lady looked up uncomfortably and responded “This was signed off of from multiple managers and I believe her references and job experience are…”
The man interrupted her with a hushed by stern voice. “This woman does not fit our profile for a marketing director. Her experience is old.”
“But she has the needed continued education classes within the past year and she still donates her time to volunteer groups around the city” the receptionist stammered.
“She simply won’t fit in this job.”
“I agree sir” she responded.
Another gentleman had apparently excused himself from the room Ameen’s mom was in and had shut the door. He walked up to the receptionist and the man in Armani and said “James, I just don’t know how this all happened. I feel bad and take responsibility for this but I thought I was sorting through applicants better than this. The last time she held down a job in our industry was over 10 years ago. Now ide never talk bad about someone and I think she is brave to try to improve herself but she definitely isn’t going to meet the pay grade here”.
Ameen sat in shock. He felt catatonic. His mother didn’t belong. Because she had raised us? Because her current job was such a low position? He was heartbroken. But they were already past it.
“Anyway” the manager from the room continued more upbeat “I have some good news and we can take off when they are through in there. The subsidy for the company came through. Our profits declined too steadily and we had some pending lawsuits which will be closing soon so the banks approved the loan and we got the money from the legislators to cover being under what we planned this year.So we will be fine. Just need to readjust some things and we will take back off from this setback”
The man in Armani laughed jovially without a care in the world “Good!! See? Hard work DOES pay off. I am headed out for golfing and a trip to see my mother in law for a week. I could use a break from all the family drama but you have to keep the wife happy. And she has been wanting to see her. She also has been feeling really neglected lately so I am going to surprise her with a trip to Spain with just me. Hopefully that will ease some of the stress”.
“I hope so too. She has been under a lot of stress lately. She deserves this. She is a good woman.” the manager replied.
Ameen understood this man. He started getting caught up in the humanity of it all. How his wife must miss her husband so much being gone all the time. How hard it must be to have so many responsibilities. But then feelings of anger came in. How dare she get a break and a wonderful trip just because she was a good person? How dare she say she ‘earned’ all this when they got bailouts and help just like Ameen’s mother! She probably didn’t even have to work as hard as his mother!
“Would you like to join me for a round before I go pack?”
“Sure! I have some clients who need some finalized papers but I can brainstorm and do that later.Let me just wrap up some things and i’ll meet you out front in five?”
“Sounds good” the man replied straightening his suit. “Oh, and Marie” he said to the receptionist as he turned to leave “sorry if I came down too hard on you. I know this wasn’t all your fault. You do a great job. I will have something for you next week so you can go treat yourself to something nice after all you have done this week. And don’t worry about the interview. She will find something else more suited for her. She will just have to pay her dues like everyone else and do what i have done and she will get a good position too when its right.”
“Thank you sir!” the receptionist said beaming. “I understand!”
Ameen was left with the sounds of the game show host laughing. It sounded as absurd and devastatingly wrong as if he were laughing at a funeral. Ameen didn’t care what he was really saying. All he heard was the laughter and the deep announcer voice saying “Ameen! Lighten up! This is the way of the world and you just didn’t get the ace! Don’t let it bother you! Laugh laugh laugh laugh”.
Ameen’s mother came out smiling and waved him over to her saying it was time to go. She thanked the receptionist and Ameen watched as the receptionist gave a sad smile and said to have a nice day. She seemed sincere and sad. She felt bad. But Ameen didn’t want her pity for his mom. He didn’t appreciate where she was at in life. He only saw how good she had it. They were giving her perks to take care of herself. She earned good money and only worked normal hours. She had respect, she was treated like every person should. She didn’t have one trait my mother didn’t have and she would convince herself this all was justified so she could go home and feel content again.
If it were true that hard work equaled success then his mother would be a CEO. In fact, If that were true then this great company Ameen had walked in respecting and admiring wouldn’t be great at all. They had bailouts, and handouts just like a poor person but here it was business and in Ameen’s home it was a shameful lazy stigma. Here they could call it a business tide and at home it was called the daily dues of the grindhouse. In a business it reflects business and for the poor it reflects character.
Walking outside, Ameen’s mother paused next to him as the man in the Armani suit drove away with his manager friend in a Lexus with chrome wheels. The manager smiled and nodded. They went off to take care of their families and do work like every other person. Society decided they earned it and were respected. In reality maybe they were good people and had worked hard. Ameen saw them as taking money away from all those who work just as hard if not harder and accepting money for a job NOT well done. He saw greediness. He saw the true leaches of society that masqueraded as self righteous, entitled business’s. Their money let them walk with dignity while all those who struggled underneath them blamed the poor to be the criminals and made them feel worthless. Those who ran big business’s and lived with millions could take their families on lavish vacations, never worry day to day about eating or having a roof over their head or feeling worthwhile. But the poor who had to struggle for every last penny, worry about food and their kids and a roof over their head and how to manage time, were condemned if they accepted help.
Ameen came out of his memory and back to the game. The football was thrown from the familiar players he rooted for. He looked at Adam and JT as they sat zoned in and occasionally pumped up when a good play happened. He realized there was a real war. Every person is the same deep down. The virtues always will be there of hard work, fairness, and independence. No one likes those who want a free ride, who don’t deserve what they earn, and who take advantage of others. The war is internal. The working class is too busy slaving away proving their work through hours and hours of labor. They didn’t earn all that,God allowed them all that. They earned the ability to work so they could develop character not money. One poor person working isn’t more important than a rich person working. They will never be the same, but they both can be treated fair for what they know. Ameen’s friends both deserved a lot more money for all their hard work. And it wouldn’t take much to give them that. Instead of a few earning millions for less work, they could pay those who do the meat of the work a living wage. Ameen realized he shouldn’t resent those who have it better because he could assume they didn’t have to fight for it and work hard and that could be just as inaccurate. The only war then is in the divisions. The barriers where we hate someone for being poor because you think they are leaching or hating someone who is rich because you feel they are greedy and don’t work as hard. The virtue of work is meant to refine us internally. God is the one who gives the increase, the energy of the universe responds to what we need not necessarily what we want.
Ameen didn’t have all the answers. He couldn’t fix that some people will always abuse good things, that some people are lazy and won’t work, and that those in the middle will kick at the poor trying to release shackles they think the poor engineered. He couldn’t fix the perceptions the rich had created to blame the poor for their greed, that they somehow deserved to have excess while others have nothing. He couldn’t fix things for his mom or stop his friends from fighting so fiercely with the wrong people. He couldn’t do it. But he could go to work again tomorrow and love his friends anyway. He could keep loving his mom. And he could keep trying to tell his stories. Maybe one day it would prick someones’ heart and they would realize. They would ‘see’. They would feel. The whole world is connected and we are all basically the same. Fighting to be better with little or a lot.